The eponymous Sophie Shadow is a puppet belonging to a girl who, along with her family, is in hiding from some unknown regime. Complemented and enhanced by its setting in The Vault - a small and stony space below George IV Bridge - this is a new play, co-written by director Lucy Betts and actress Millie Layton. The company are all members of the Yvonne Arnaud Youth Theatre - but if the words 'youth theatre' usually send you searching for something else to see, think again. This production is an absolute gem that leaves a lot of professional productions wanting by comparison.
It is a beautiful story, imaginatively told by the young cast who act with assurance. There isn't a single performance that is weak. Indeed, there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the talents of this cast. Of particular note is Alex Hartley as Sophie's grandfather. His characterisation is exceptional and his conviction and believability means there is no need for exaggerated acting or make-up to age him. He wears the character of the kindly, troubled patriarch of a family in crisis with ease. Every cast member, whatever their age or familial role simply inhabits their persona effortlessly, making it a joy to watch.
Central to the story is Sophie, the youngest of the group and the centre of the family's concerns. Through an evolving and ingenious mixture of puppetry, music, and movement, the family invent various fantasies in which to envelope and protect her. Such devices might be well-trodden theatrical paths, but this cast enliven them with their precision and creativity. Their puppeteering is second to none and the stories told through this medium are believable and touching. This is all to the credit of the young writers, of course, who have set out their stall at the Fringe as talents of the future.
Storytelling of this perfection deserves a wider audience - the acting here is of the highest calibre from an impossibly young cast. This enchanting production will draw you in and warm your heart, before tenderly breaking it as it blows you away. A shining example of what youth theatre is capable of, this is a charming, exquisite, and moving production.